Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 365

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa for 15 years. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Hillsborough Commission Democrats question lack of diversity in 2 local organizations

Hillsborough County demographics are changing more and more every year, but two prestigious boards in the region are represented almost exclusively by white men (or white-led) organizations.

Take the Tampa Bay Partnership.

CEO Rick Homans and Dave Sobush, the agency’s director of policy and research, came before the Hillsborough County Commission Wednesday to present some key findings of its recently publishedRegional Competitiveness Report,” written by the Partnership in collaboration with United Way Suncoast, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, and other regional business and philanthropic partners.

Commissioner Les Miller joined some of his colleagues in praising the men for presenting an “excellent report,” but he also was taken aback by the lack of racial diversity on groups involved in producing it.

Reviewing a list of officials involved with the report, Miller noted only one black person was on the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay Board of Trustees, and just one black with the Tampa Bay Partnership Council of Governors, and none with the other groups associated with the report.

Homans noted that there was a literal price to serve on those boards – $50,000 for the Council of Governors and a $25,000 fee to be on the Leadership Council.

“Quite frankly, we are actively seeking a diverse representation on that board, and any help you can provide us in securing some of those folks would be much appreciated,” Homans said, adding that it was “critical” to reach out to all members of the community.

“I don’t know if the people that you have there can really articulate the issues we have in Hillsborough County,” Miller said, acknowledging the fiscal realities required to be on those boards.

Homans emphasized that the data in the report was a result of community organizations throughout the Bay area providing input.

Later during the meeting, Visit Tampa Bay CEO and President Santiago Corrada addressed the board, where he said that the county is enjoying another record-setting year for tourism.

He said one of the more surprising developments was how stellar September was for bed taxes in September, despite the perceived negative impact of Hurricane Irma. Bed taxes were up 30 percent that month, with the spike attributed in part by so many South Floridians attempting to escape the wrath of Hurricane Irma, believing the storm couldn’t change direction and hit the region.

That’s when the other Democrat on the seven-person board, Pat Kemp, asked Corrada about the fact that Visit Tampa Bay has 26 board members, but only two who are women. “I really think it needs to start reflecting our community,” she told Corrada.

“We’ve been focused on it,” Corrada replied. “That is one of the instances where we need to improve,” adding that those two will soon be departing, one because of retirement and the other is relocating.

Kemp and Commission Chair Sandy Murman said that they would make sure to get the word out to qualified females in the industry about that need.

Commissioner Miller did say that Visit Tampa Bay has a multicultural advisory board that helps bring in conferences and conventions tied explicitly to minorities.

U.S. Census Bureau information from earlier this year shows that 51.3 percent of Hillsborough’s 1.376 million residents are female. Twenty-eight percent are Hispanic; 18 percent are black.

Hillsborough Commissioners want Legislature to address who has curfew power

Nearly three months after Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn engaged in a verbal skirmish about who had the power to call for an emergency curfew in Tampa, County Commissioners would like local state legislators to weigh in.

The issue goes back to the days leading up the arrival of Hurricane Irma in the Tampa Bay area, which was predicted to bring major damage to the region.

On Sunday morning, Sept. 10, hours before Irma’s expected arrival, Buckhorn and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan declared a curfew would begin in Tampa Sunday at 6 p.m., and would not be lifted until he and other city officials deemed it safe after the storm passed.

“If you are out on the streets after six o’clock, we are going to challenge you and find out what you’re doing out there,” said Dugan. “We are relying on the good people of Tampa to tell us what’s going on in their neighborhoods, and to point out who doesn’t belong in their neighborhoods.”

Five hours later, however, Merrill held his own news conference saying: “I have not called for a mandatory curfew. We urge residents to get to a safe place, to shelter in place.”

Buckhorn didn’t back down; a curfew was in place as Irma hit late Sunday night into Monday morning. After daybreak Monday, the city of Tampa said the curfew was no longer in affect.

At Wednesday’s Board of County Commission meeting, county attorney Chip Fletcher said that he had been in consultation with the city attorney’s office in Tampa regarding mandatory evacuations, another issue where there was a conflict between the city and county leading up to Irma’s arrival. He said issues were less clear when it came to the power of ordering curfews.

Commissioner Les Miller, who served in Tallahassee for more than a decade before coming on the board in 2010, said he remembered that the Legislature had enacted specific rules after a similar incident happened in Tampa in 2005. He said this was the time to go back to the Hillsborough County legislative delegation to review those statutes to make sure they’re complementing each other.

“We might not be the only county that’s having these issue,” Miller said. “We could be working out an agreement with all the mayors and the emergency management policy group, but who’s to say that two years from now, when there’s a new mayor, the same issue does not come about?”

The board then approved a motion proposed by Miller to have the board write a letter to the Hillsborough legislative delegation to review all statutes that deal with emergency management policies and operations dealing with issues like curfews.

Another conflicting issue that took place between the county and city occurred Friday, Sept. 8, when Buckhorn called for a mandatory evacuation in Tampa of residents of Zone A. At the time, Hillsborough County had only issued a voluntary evacuation for special-needs residents of that zone.

The announcement directed people to the county’s shelters. Unfortunately, Hillsborough hadn’t opened their general population shelters yet.

Fletcher said that it’s now “clear” that the county has the ultimate emergency management authority when it comes to ordering evacuations.

Commissioner Sandy Murman said that it was important to get this policy right, saying she was getting her hair done in South Tampa that Friday afternoon when she learned that the city had called for an evacuation, “and I knew full well that the shelters weren’t open.”

“That’s when confusion starts,” she said. “People need to know they have a place to go.”

The issue was brought up initially at Wednesday’s meeting by a member of the general public.

“I’m not pleased how that was communicated to the public,” said Gerald White. “We all need to be on the same page during a crisis.”

“It was a little embarrassing and very confusing what took place,” Commissioner Victor Crist acknowledged.

Conservative activist files suit to rescind Penny for Pinellas vote

If you can’t beat ’em at the polls, perhaps you can take them down in the courtroom?

That’s the philosophy of Pinellas County Tea Party activist Tom Rask, who is suing the Pinellas County Commission following last month’s vote to reauthorize the Penny for Pinellas sales tax.

In a lawsuit filed Nov. 22, Rask claims that the initiative violated the prohibition in Florida Law against “false, misleading and deceptive ballot language.” He also claims the county officials wrongly used public dollars to advocate for passage.

Pinellas voters approved the one-cent tax last month by an overwhelming 83 percent, the fourth time the 10-year measure passed since 1989. It has grown in popularity, compared to the previous time the issue came before the voters. In 2007, it passed with just 56 percent of the vote.

Examples of what Rask claims were the measure’s deceptive language is that both the ballot title and ballot question references a “sales surtax,” not a “sales tax.”

He also takes a shot at Pinellas Commissioners, claiming they crossed the line into advocating for the measure. The suit alleges: “DEFENDANT furthermore told a one-sided story to voters, extolling only the benefits of the tax, and none of the downsides. Giving half the story is, by definition, advocacy.”

Rask was a member of the coalition of county activists who opposed the Greenlight Pinellas transit tax in 2014. This year, he also spent time vocally fighting Penny for Pinellas.

Rask filed the lawsuit on his own behalf.

“We have received and reviewed the complaint, and are confident that the ballot question and process conformed with all requirements of the law,” said Barbra Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Attorney.

Women’s March Florida plans statewide events in January

Organizers behind this past January’s enormously successful women’s marches across Florida say they’re coming back for more in 2018.

Women’s March Florida is calling for a “Day of Action” on January 21, 2018, the anniversary of what has been called the largest political protest in recent U.S. history.

Protests will take place in Miami, Orlando, St. Petersburg, and Jacksonville.

Organizers say they intend to bring “awareness, support and donations” to areas affected by the hurricanes this past year in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Florida Keys. The event will also focus on expanding voter access and registration.

The Women’s March in Washington this past January has been called likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history, with estimated ranging from 500,000 to 3 million people attending.

The largest rallies in Florida included more than 20,000 in St. Petersburg, 14,000 in Tallahassee and more than 10,000 in Miami.

Similar rallies to take place on January 21, 2018, are also being planned around the country.

Margaret Good defeats Ruta Jouniari for Democratic nomination in House District 72 special election

Siesta Key attorney Margaret Good defeated Ruta Jouniari for the Democratic nomination in a special election in Florida House District 72

Good won in a landslide, defeating her opponent by 44 points, 72%-28%. Good had 6,144 votes to Jouniari’s 2,342.

Good now advances to the special general election scheduled for Feb. 13.

“I am humbled and overwhelmed by the showing of support this community has given our campaign tonight,” said Good. “It speaks volumes about the strength of the organization our team has built all across the district, as well as Sarasota’s desire for change from failed Republican policies both nationally and in Tallahassee.”

The battle had been depicted as a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic party. Good is a mainstream Democrat who state party officials think has the potential to flip the seat from red to blue in 2018.

Journiari was the more progressive candidate who had the backing of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, in part, for her support for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and a Medicare-for-all style health care system.

Good hopes to unify the party as she heads into the general election.

“We want to thank and recognize Ruta Jouniari for running a spirited campaign based on ideas,” said Good. “We cannot defeat James Buchanan and the Rick Scott-led Florida Republicans without the help of folks like her and her supporters, and we call now for a time of unity towards a grassroots, people-powered campaign that can flip District 72 blue again.”

Good goes into the general election phase of the campaign with $51,170 in her campaign account. She also has another $23,000 in her committee, New Day Florida.

Sitting back and taking in the results is Republican James Buchanan, who has $169,398 on hand heading into the holidays.

Libertarian Alison Foxall will also be on the general election ballot. She has approximately $8,844 on hand.

The special election was called for after GOP incumbent Alex Miller surprisingly stepped down fin September, less than a year after being elected.

Buchanan will be the favorite in the general; statistics from last year show HD 72 with about 52,000 Republican voters compared to about 35,000 Democrats and another 30,000 with no party affiliation. Miller’s landslide victory over Ed James III last year came alongside a 5-point win for President Donald Trump in the district.

Alma Gonzalez gets key support for Florida Democratic chair, but not from all progressives

The race for the next Florida Democratic Party chair is not quite a done deal.

In a statement Tuesday, Terrie Rizzo said she has 70 percent of the 182 votes needed to win the nomination. However, Hillsborough County’s Alma Gonzalez is touting new endorsements from the state’s Democratic black, Hispanic and Caribbean caucuses. And Brevard County’s Stacey Patel is getting some love from progressives in Gonzalez’ home territory.

The three women are all in the running to lead the party in an election scheduled to take place Saturday in Orlando. The SEIU’s Monica Russo is technically not eligible to compete for the seat, but she is hoping for a change in the bylaws to become the fourth official candidate in the race.

Rizzo, the Palm Beach Democratic DEC Chair, announced new endorsements that she says proves that she is getting closer to having the votes to win the nomination, but Gonzalez says the race is extremely fluid and that she’s seen far too many FDP elections to know that commitments made before the election can change by the time the votes begin to get counted. And she says that the groups whose caucuses backed her today make up well over half the voters who vote in primary elections in Florida, making her “super excited.”

“I am deeply honored to have the support of these caucuses and the Democrats that they represent,” said Gonzalez. “They represent the New American Majority and their voices, issues and leadership will have prominent seats at the table if I am elected chair.”

However, several members of the Tampa Bay Progressive Coalition told Florida Politics that they’re backing Patel, the Bernie Sanders-supporting Brevard chair who is the insurgent candidate in the campaign.

Susan Smith, Jessica Vaughn, Scott Shoup, Beth Shoup, Michael Deloach, Jennifer Hart, Emily Bur, Marcus Klebe, Russell Giambrone, Jackie Simpson, Becca Fiore, Russell Hires, Beau Robichaux and Nina Tatlock all say that they are supporting Patel.

“The great thing about being a Democrat is that we all get to be who we want to be,” Gonzalez responded. “There are going to be individuals who support somebody else’s candidate, and that’s what the beauty of democracy is.”

Gonzalez serves as a Committeewoman for the Hillsborough DEC, but one member of the local Progressive Coalition expressed frustration with her role there, saying she didn’t represent the entire DEC’s stance on some issues, such as the “one party, one vote issue.”

Florida is the only state in the nation whose votes are weighted in state party elections for the chair, meaning not a one man/woman one vote. Advocates say that is in direct violation of Democratic National Committee rules.

When asked about this, Gonzalez admits that it was an issue between her and many Hillsborough DEC members.

“I said to folks I think that we need to have a full debate, and I am not prepared to take a definitive stance in favor of something that I don’t understand,” she says. “I will not push forward on something until I get it. I’m really fortunate because as I’ve said that, openly and transparently and as clearly as I could, lots of folks said, this is what we need, and this is what’s important to us, and I’m so grateful to them for sharing that with me openly.”

It’s not the first time that Hillsborough Dems haven’t back one of their own for party chair. A dispute about the local bylaws of the Hillsborough DEC thwarted Alan Clendenin from winning the race for state committeeman a year ago, leading him to temporarily move to a far distant northeastern small county to make himself eligible for the party chair election.

Clendenin finished second to Miami-Dade’s Stephen Bittel, who resigned last month after it was reported that he had made demeaning comments to women. His resignation triggered the election.

Ed Turanchik seriously considers Tampa mayoral run in 2019

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner and transit advocate Ed Turanchik is seriously considering entering running for Tampa mayor in 2019.

“There’s been overwhelming broad-based encouragement from people that I should do it and that I needed to do it,” Turanchik told Florida Politics Tuesday afternoon.

The Tampa Bay Times initially reported his of his renewed interest.

The Tampa Democrat said that there’d been a “persistent drumbeat” for months now from people from all across the political spectrum encouraging him to enter the 2019 mayoral sweepstakes, which doesn’t figure to get seriously underway for another year. The election takes place in March of 2019.

The 62-year-old hasn’t served in government in nearly twenty years, having last served on the County Commission in 1998. He currently works at Ackerman LLP, a law firm where he works in government relations, zoning and urban development.

After he finished two terms as county commissioner, Turanchik took up perhaps his most quixotic campaign ever — a bid to have Tampa considered as a site for the 2012 Olympics (which ultimately was awarded to London).

After that bid failed, Turanchik took up the Civitas project in 2004, a mixed-use residential and commercial development which was supposed to transform downtown’s public housing projects. He then became involved in local real estate with the InTown Homes project in West Tampa.

And of course, he’s always been an advocate of different transit solutions over the years, most recently with the Cross-Bay Ferry, where he teamed with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for a public-private project that was considered a success earlier this year, but won’t come back this fall.

The Cross-Bay Ferry project came to fruition much sooner than another ferry project that Turanchik began working with Seattle based HMS Ferries back in the spring of 2013. The project evolved after studies showed that thousands of commuters who live in South Hillsborough County and drive to MacDill Air Force Base on a daily basis would take a ferry service if it were an option. There is currently a design and engineering study on the project is now underway.

He ran a campaign for Tampa mayor in 2011 that seemed to catch fire late, finishing fourth in a five-person field that was ultimately won by Bob Buckhorn. Though he didn’t win enough votes to get into the runoff, he did garner a group of passionate supporters and was endorsed by the alt-weekly Creative Loafing in the primary that year (when this correspondent served as political editor).

“A big-picture thinker who served in elected office and exercised leadership across county boundaries, he also has firsthand experience with the block-by-block realities of doing business in Tampa. He’s a progressive and a pragmatist,” wrote CL editor David Warner at the time.

Turanchik said he hasn’t considered running again at all, but has “gravitated” toward the idea of how Tampa can pivot toward the 21st century. He says it would be the culmination of nearly 30 years of civic engagement, and said it would be “intellectually stimulating.”

He learned a lot from that unsuccessful campaign and said that (presumably) some of those lessons learned would be to raise more campaign cash and run a more protracted campaign.

“I was outspent 10-1 and really only ran a 60-day campaign,” he said. “And I got 20 percent of the vote,”

Officially, he received 19.4 percent of the race, six percentage points behind Rose Ferlita and four points behind Buckhorn. He said that while many of his enthusiastic team of volunteers from that campaign are urging him on again for 2018, he’s also hearing from Tea Party members, Republicans, Democrats and business leaders.

Among those expected to run in the election are former Police Chief Jane Castor and current council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen.

And then there is David Straz, the 74-year-old philanthropist who dipped his toes into a possible candidacy on Sunday when his exploratory committee hosted a spaghetti lunch in West Tampa, which drew a crowd of approximately 250 people.

Like Turanchik, Straz said he’s only considering a candidacy because of grassroots supporters urging him to enter the contest. Both men say they’ll probably decide whether to go all in during the first quarter of 2018.

“I don’t know if I’m going to do it, but I’m looking at it seriously, and it’s got nothing to do with anyone in the field,” Turanchik said, adding that it’s the opportunity to do “great work that is meaningful and can move the city forward” that is attractive to him.

Senate advances slavery memorial, but not before committee chair defends initial opposition

Legislation calling for a memorial honoring those who suffered from slavery in Florida advanced unanimously through a Senate committee Tuesday.

But first, Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee chair Dennis Baxley explained why he was always for the bill, even though he voted against it last Session.

The bill (SB 286) will recognize the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery in the U.S. and its colonies, including Florida, explained St. Petersburg Democrat Darryl Rouson, the bill’s sponsor in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

“And to honor the nameless and forgotten men and women and children who have gone unrecognized for their undeniable and weighty contributions to this state and country,” Rouson told his colleagues serving on the committee.

The bill calls for the Department of Management Services to develop a specific plan for the design, placement, and cost of the memorial and submits the plan to the Governor and Legislature.

The bill has zoomed through various House committees this fall, as it did during the regular 2017 session earlier this year. But it was Baxley who stalled it in the Senate earlier this year, saying he objected to the title of the bill, “the Florida Slavery Memorial.”

The descendant of a Confederate soldier, Baxley said in April that he had objected to the bill because he didn’t want to “celebrate defeat,” a comment he retracted in a later interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board.

During his tenure in the Legislature, the Ocala Republican has been a champion of the Confederacy. He fought a bill that sought to ban flying the Confederate flag on government property, opposed a memorial to fallen Union soldiers at a state park that has three monuments to Confederates, disputed the removal of a Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith‘s statute from the U.S. Capitol and tried to keep colleagues from eliminating the offensive word “darkeys” from the chorus of the state song, “The Swanee River.”

But he took a different approach on Tuesday, saying he never opposed the monument.

“My concern last year was that I really wanted to focus on the people who endured slavery rather than the institution itself,” he told Rouson and his committee. “And I would like to honor people, rather than being about the institution. “

Baxley said he thought that Rouson had given him a good explanation about the memorial’s intent and that would be the content of the monument “to my satisfaction, and I think of others.” He thanked Rouson for working with him with a level of mutual respect, “rather than raining down fire on me.”

The bill is being sponsored in the House by Democrat Kionne McGhee.

Anti-Muslim charges leveled at HD 58 candidates forum

At a League of Women Voters House District 58 candidates forum Monday night, two of the candidates were accused of being disrespectful to the Muslim community.

The forum was held at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay in Temple Terrace, and featured Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and non-party affiliated candidate Ahmad Saaldaldin.

Republican Lawrence McClure, who leads in fundraising, was a no-show.

Vazquez ignited a firestorm of criticism from Muslims who attended the event for a Facebook post in which he wrote that he had stopped eating pork and drinking wine.

“I want, therefore to deny such an outrage and to affirm categorically that at no time I try to stop drinking or eating pork; I did not think of such a ridiculous idea, much less dreamed of such a possibility,” Vazquez wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page on Dec. 2, adding that they were “lies invented by my enemies.”

“How is that related to you serving the community?” a member of the crowd asked Vazquez shortly after the Q&A between the audience and the candidates commenced. “Don’t you see this as an offensive announcement?”

Vazquez said that he meant no disrespect. Holding a sheet of paper in his left hand that he said was his blood work, he said that he had been admitted to Tampa General Hospital a month ago with chest pain.

“My cardiologist told me I had to reduce my drinking, drinking soda, anything with a lot of sugar and my eating habits,” he explained.

Saaldaldin said that he was offended about reading how “outraged” Vazquez was about being accused of not eating pork or drinking wine, substances that most observant Muslims do not indulge in.

“When you say it’s ridiculous, outrageous and it’s dangerous – that’s offensive, whether you meant to or not, that’s what you did,” Saaldaldin said, as many members in the audience cheered.

Some members of the Islamic faith also were unhappy that C.L. Townsend, who is working with the Vazquez campaign, had written a letter to the League of Women Voters calling for the event to be moved to a different site, saying it was “not a neutral site” and unfairly favored one candidate (meaning Saaldaldin).

“The current event, as planned, should be cancelled and rescheduled to a more neutral site,” he wrote.

Townsend is the husband of Ione Townsend, the chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee. He said as a member of the League, he thought they were always the “gold standard” for acting in an impartial nonpartisan manner, a standard that he feels they fell short of on Monday night.

And he called it “unfortunate” that some interpreted his letter as being anti-Muslim, saying that was definitely not his intention.

The candidates also noted McClure’s absence.

“Lawrence McClure, the Republican that is not here, does not think he needs to talk to any of you, probably because you’re Muslim,” charged Saaldaldin.

Later in the forum, the candidates were asked what they would do to combat Islamaphobia.

“If I could reach up and flick a switch somewhere that said, ‘racism gone. Sexism gone. Islamaphobia in particular to your question, gone,'” replied Zemina. “But there’s no switch to flip.”

The 30-year-old Libertarian said that there is much less racism within his generation than in the past, though he acknowledged a resurgence over the past year. He said he would oppose any legislation in Tallahassee that would restrict access to citizenship based on religion and or sexual orientation.

Vazquez said he had a plan to educate the community about discrimination, not just about Islamaphobia but about domestic violence, job discrimination and other society ills.

Saaldaldin acknowledged that as a Muslim (his family is from Kurdistan in Iraq) his people have suffered from prejudice, but said it paled in comparison to the racism suffered by blacks and Hispanics in the U.S.

“Our freedom, our liberation is all tied together,” he said.

Although the district officially has more Democrats than Republicans, HD 58 is considered to be conservative country, as it encompasses Plant City, Temple Terrace, Dover, Mango, Seffner, Thonotosassa, and parts of Tampa and East Lake-Orient Park.

The candidates were asked how they could attract Republican votes.

Zemina said that in fact, he was the true conservative in the race, saying that in contrary to current GOP politics, he actually believes in balancing the federal budget. He also accused McClure of buying the election.

McClure did not immediately return our call for comment on Tuesday.

The election takes place on Dec. 19.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to speak at USF in February

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak will speak in Tampa next February at the USF Sun Dome.

Wozniak single-handedly designed and built the first Apple I kits in 1976, which went on sale for $666.66 and also designed the 1977 follow up Apple II computer.

In November 2014, he joined data virtualization company Primary Data as chief scientist.

He was initially scheduled to speak at the Oval Theater inside the Marshall Center as part of the inaugural USF Muma College of Business Thought Leader Series, but the event has now been moved to the more spacious arena due to popular demand.

According to the website where you can obtain tickets (only two, max), Wozniak is expected to talk about the need for entrepreneurship in technology companies and business issues in the age of technology. He is also expected to talk about the ways big data and analytics can be used to foster innovation and creativity.

The event will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be obtained by going here.

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